The walk back from the liquor store was unusually chilly, despite the bright winter sun. Don’t let them kid you. LA can be a cold, hard place. I was going to need a fresh bottle the way the bill collectors were hounding me.
Imagine my surprise to see a little ray of sunshine standing outside the building. It was Sunday, nobody to buzz her in.
“Mr. Spade?” she whispered, in a voice that cut through my heart the way the wind cut through my cheap suit. I knew a job when I saw one.
The sun lit one side of her face like a ray out of heaven, leaving the other half dark and dangerously real. She arced an eyebrow over her sunglasses on the dark side in something between an invitation and a warning.
“Not here, ” I answered, and let us both in.
We rode in cramped silence up the tiny lift. I hoped her perfume would cling to my suit. It would be nice to remember her by – if I had to kill her.
She waited patiently while I fumbled with the keys like a school boy. Or maybe I just needed that drink.
I thought she wore the glasses to protect her eyes from the sun’s glare. Once inside my office, I invited her to take them off. It was then I realized she wore them to protect me. She had the kind of eyes that got young girls, and old men, into trouble. I’m pretty sure she used them to get herself out of trouble as well.
I covered my unease by pouring myself two fingers in a dirty glass. She didn’t strike me as the kind to drink at this hour, so I didn’t bother offering her some.
Those eyes locked on me as I tossed the glass back. The eyebrow passed judgment as I poured another. Once I had it in hand, I was ready to face her.
“Now… what can I do for you, Miss…..?”
“Smith,” she whispered.
“Of course,” I smiled. “I think I knew your mother…”
She produced a brown envelope from beneath her coat and laid it gently on the table. Something about the gesture made me think that whatever was inside was … volatile. Dangerous.
I picked it up and unfastened the clasp. A cursory glance inside held no surprises.
I dumped the glossies on top of my desk. In the harsh glare of daylight, they seemed typically tawdry. The naked flesh, the twisted bodies. The man looked like a rough guy. I’d seen his type in alleys and cell blocks before. The woman was feral, sensual, even in repose she seemed to be stalking him.
It all seemed so common. But a paycheck was a paycheck. I noticed she twirled her wedding band nervously.
She sighed and looked away.
“My wife,” she choked.
Ah yes. Times were changing.
I hoped the long slow sip of rye would cover my wry grin. It seems the more things change, the more they stay the same. It was an all too sad and banal tale of lust and betrayal. Still, she appeared to be genuinely upset. There was a kind of sweetness to her tears. I wasn’t proud of the way they made me feel.
“Look Miss… Smith. It seems like someone else has already done the dirty work. These pictures are enough to get a divorce in your favor. What do you want from me?”
She wiped the pictures off the desk and into the trash can. Now her eyes were cold. Hard.
“I don’t want a divorce Mr. Spade. I want you to find her murderer.”
My retainer just doubled.
I finished the drink and reached for the bottle. Her hand beat me to it. “I’ll need you at your best,” she said. She carried it to the filing cabinet and placed it just out of reach. For her.
“I haven’t been my best in a long time, Miss Smith. And this sort of thing is going to cost money. A lot of money. Have a seat…” I motioned to the chair. We were going to have to do some serious negotiating.
She took a moment to slip out of her coat. Cute negotiating trick, that dress. She had me at an instant disadvantage. I’m not judging her sexual preference, but she knew how to work her assets for any audience. My guess is – she was comfortable on both sides of the street.
“Please, call me Arjae.” She took a seat and crossed her legs. Another killer negotiating tactic. I was loosing ground fast. “There’s the insurance money – we can start with that,” she purred. Yes, purred. Her curves and movements were positively feline. So of course, her voice sounded that way. I knew the movements of a trained dancer when I saw one. I’d seen a few in my day.
“Insurance money? For a murder?”
She bit her lower lip. Seriously? Did she think that was going to work?. My reflexes told my brain it did.
“Well, everyone else thinks it was an accident.”
And now we got to the tricky part. “But you know better, am I right?” She took a deep breath, and nodded her answer. I found myself holding my breath, staring into those eyes – waiting for her to exhale. Presently, we filled the room with a mutual sigh. Not quite the sound lovers make. But it would do.
“Is a hundred grand enough to get you started?” She bit that lower lip again, then followed it with a feint smile. Oh yes, she knew what she was doing.
A hundred grand? She could start and stop me all day long for that kind of money.
“It’s a start,” I replied.
This little ditty was inspired by a Facebook photo of my good friend and talented actress Robbie-Jean (Arjae). I was challenged by another friend Andy, to write a piece of noir in the style of Hammet or Chandler to go with the image. He wrote the fourth paragraph, which I altered a bit and improvised around. Sometimes the muse takes hold.
And yes, I do own a Maltese Falcon.